Web co-registration partnerships: Do’s and Dont’s

Web co-registration partnerships: Do’s and Dont’s – Idea Bank

Web browsers who sign up to become a member of American-Greetings.com, for a chance to win a sweepstakes on iWon.com, or to download Web site construction tools at Bravenet.com, might find themselves ordering a subscription, too.

Readers Digest Association and Time Inc. are among the publishers partnering with outside Web companies on co-registration campaigns that capture impulse magazine buys. When users provide their names, postal and email addresses to register for Web site access or membership, they’re also presented magazine offer copy. With information already in place, ordering a sub takes a mere check of an opt-in box.

Reader’s Digest Association has been involved in co-registration for over a year to promote Reader’s Digest, special interest titles such as The Family Handyman and condensed books from its Select Edition division.

“With a rate base of about 12.5 million names, being an active marketer on the Internet is extremely important to us,” says Andrew Bein, VP, general manager of Readers-Digest.com. While he stresses that co-registration is just one of RDA’s many Web programs, and won’t reveal co-registration order volumes, Bein describes it as “a very important source of subscribers for the company.”

According to other marketers, gross orders from co-registration programs can vary from a few hundred to several thousand per month, depending on the title promoted, the number of Web companies partnered with, and those partners’ online reach. But nets can be exceptionally low.

When Time Inc. started its co-registration program two years ago, many Web sites were leery about cluttering their registration pages with other companies’ merchandise offers, says John Reese, marketing director of Time, who was formerly executive marketing director, consumer marketing online for Time Inc. But over time, more sites have recognized the value of their “real estate” and have begun to allow advertisers to promote their wares. Because these efforts have yielded large numbers of leads for many marketers, “many sites are now chock-full of various offers for free products or special deals on magazines, newsletters and credit cards,” Reese says. “Response rates are fine, but pay-up can be horrendous. In some cases, we’ve seen pay-up rates of less than 5 percent”

If a site has many partners, “your offer can get lost in a risk -free, free-merchandise bazaar, where people will just start clicking to receive everything,” Reese stresses. “The mindset of ordering is different, and the free-stuff mentality doesn’t always pay.” The less “monetized” a Web site registration page is, he says, the better a sub offer’s pay-up may be.

Having scaled back to less than 20 targeted Web partners from upwards of 50, Time Inc. now pulls in tens of thousands of net subs per year across its titles, Reese reports.

“While we’ve had some success [with co-registration programs], you need to proceed very cautiously,” agrees Bein. “If you’re not careful, you can lose a lot of money on the back end.”

Here are more tips for making co-registration programs work, from marketers with experience in this new arena:

* Ask for help. “The biggest danger with a co-registration campaign is that it looks really simple, but it’s not,” maintains Mitchel Harad, co-founder and CEO of GetRelevant, Inc., an online ad broker and provider of co-registration technology that works with many consumer publishers. Before starting a campaign, he recommends consulting with an experienced peer, vendor or ad agency

* Develop a forward-looking marketing plan. “Have a goal in mind and plan out how you intend to increase the size of your co-registration campaign in the future,” advises Harad. Among the questions circulators should consider: What are our targets for subscriber acquisition cost and volume? How can we make sure that we’re calculating these on an “apples-to-apples” basis with other acquisition methods? What communications will our prospects receive after opting in, and when will they receive these?

Start small.

Publishers can test small co-registration campaigns for about $2,000. “You can do co-registration with practically no technology,” says Harad. “Every Web property that sells co-registration services should be able to take care of presenting or serving the offer themselves and collecting and transmitting the consumer data in batches to the publisher, perhaps using something as simple as email, fax or letter. The publisher can then take this list and fulfill the subscription requests and measure the effectiveness of the campaign.”

However, Bein cautions that the quality of such leads may be lower than those generated when a Web partner transmits the leads in real time to a publisher’s internal computer system, which can validate and feed them into a fulfillment system. “If people aren’t prepared to put down $50,000 to $100,000 up front [for such an internal system], it will be hard to make a co-registration campaign work,” he maintains.

* Make sure that the match makes sense.

Even if a site isn’t currently running co-registration programs, you may be able to convince them to try it with you. But determining whether there’s real potential for gain in partnering with a specific site can be tricky.

Obviously, traffic volumes are important “A great co-registration campaign will attract only about 10 percent of the users who view it, so if a Web property registers 10,000 new users per month, it will probably only be able to generate a few hundred co-registration leads per month,” points out Harad.

Not surprisingly, the best site partners also tend to be those whose visitors have a strong affinity for a particular title’s subject matter. But publishers can still get burned. According to Reese, while Sports illustrated has successfully generated paid subscriptions on fantasy sports registration pages, including CNNSI.com’s Fantasy Central, Time Inc. financial titles saw “unacceptable” pay-up rates from some similar-interest sites that seemed like sure bets.

Harad says that mass-oriented sites can sometimes prove to be good partners, at least for general-interest titles. But again, testing is important to ensure that pay-up rates are acceptable, particularly on sites that drive traffic through sweepstakes, points in prize programs or cash.

* Pay on a performance basis.

Some Web partners price co-registration programs on a CPM basis or as part of the cost of a large, multifaceted ad campaign. But a performance-based or CPA (cost per acquisition) deal is generally preferable. At about 50 cents to several dollars per name, depending on program requirements, a CPA deal offers a publisher “cost predictability,” says Harad, who adds that volume discounts are often available. Reese stresses that magazines should pay only for valid leads.

* Set limits on the number of orders that you will initially accept.

Reese advises capping the number of orders that you’ll pay for until you can assess their quality. For instance, Time Inc. might agree to pay a new partner for only 5,000 leads per title. If pay-up results meet goals, the relationship is continued. If not, suspending the program avoids substantial bad pay and billing costs in the future.

* Include a clear, compelling offer.

Presenting a cover image and a 50-word, soft offer is a popular approach. If the site is a good fit for your title, and the title is not brand new or obscure, descriptions of the magazine’s editorial content shouldn’t be necessary. “For us, it’s the offer specifics that determine whether a prospect is in or out,” says Bein, who stresses that both the pitch and the registration process should be as streamlined as possible.

But Reese says that the soft approach isn’t always the best one. Time Inc. now uses hard offers more frequently in its campaigns. While the added time and greater commitment involved in ordering do up abandonment rates, pay-up rates benefit substantially, he says.

Soft-offer terms should be extremely clear, so that consumers who opt in for subscriptions understand that they will receive an invoice allowing them to cancel at any time, says Bein. Some publishers may find that it pays to display a “more information” button on the registration page, where complete terms and conditions are spelled out.

Programs that force prospects to opt out (by, for instance, unchecking a pre-populated check box) are bad news. “You could end up sending issues to a lot of people who don’t even realize that they’ll be receiving them, and may have zero interest in them,” stresses Bein.

* Follow up on responses as quickly as possible. ‘You’ve got to strike while the iron is hot,” emphasizes Harad. “A consumer who expresses interest today and doesn’t receive any communication or issues for months probably won’t convert into a paying subscriber.”

In addition to ensuring that Webgenerated orders get fulfilled as expeditiously as possible, some publishers find that it pays to send confirmation emails to consumers who sign up for risk-free for subscriptions and have supplied email addresses. While some circulators are reluctant to seem to encourage cancellations, others say that the financial benefits of minimizing cancellations and unpaid copies, and the benefits of promoting goodwill by reminding people who may have forgotten about their order, far outweigh the loss of net/paid responses, in the long term.

Some large Web sites that communicate regularly with their registrants via email allow publishers to include subscription payment reminders in those email messages. “It’s only to a vendor’s advantage to get leads for publishers that pay better,” notes Reese, “or publishers won’t continue co-registration programs.”

* Keep testing. As with all direct marketing, offers need to be tested and honed. “Some advertisers run a small test, fall slightly short of their goals and assume that co-registration is not an effective tool for them,” Harad says. ‘With a bit of analysis, though, they might find that some obvious, minor changes will result in vastly better results.”

Reese suggests testing a soft offer and a hard offer at different times on the same site and adjusting the marketing program based on the results.

RELATED ARTICLE: WEB COVERTESTING, PART 11:10 STEPSTO MEANINGFUL RESULTS

Doing cover research on the Web is cheap and fast, but it’s not as easy as it looks. Yes, you can definitely do it yourself–but your results will only be as good as your methodology.

As noted in part one of this Idea Bank (November 2001), feedback obtained through the Internet may or may not reflect your title’s newsstand realities. In some cases, a title’s Web users may not be representative of its newsstand buyers. “To obtain useful, meaningful results, you must apply some research best practices,” stresses Bill Billick, president/CEO of Hellertown, PA-based Media Research Corporation of America.

Billick, who developed the methodology used today by many of the largest publishers who test covers on their Web sites, offers these tips for doing it right:

1 Validate your Web cover testing with live newsstand tests. “Initially, you’ll need to test the exact same covers on the newsstand, as well as the Web, to determine if your Internet vote can actually predict a winner,” says Billick. “For some titles, Internet cover testing works great For others, it doesn’t work at alL.”

Billick strongly recommends doing three consecutive months of live newsstand testing. If your Internet cover tests predict the same winning cover as the newsstand test in at least two out of the three trials, you can move forward with confidence. If not, you should either forget about Web testing or modify your testing procedures and do another round of newsstand-versus-Web tests. Should that next round of tests still fail, you’ll know for certain that this method doesn’t work for your title. Using such data to make cover decisions could actually have a negative impact on newsstand sales.

2. Minimize the effect of live testing L on your sell-through rate. For the three-cover newsstand test, you should do either an 80/10/10 or 90/5/5 spilt, reserving the 80 or 90 percent of distribution for the cover that you would normally have chosen for that month. “Each of the tested covers should receive national distribution,” Billick says. “That will take a little more effort, but it will make the results more accurate and projectable.”

3. Randomly select Web participants. “Random sampling is always key in generating a representative sample, but in the case of Internet tests, there’s also another reason: It keeps competitors from seeing the covers you’re testing,” says Billick.

For example, if you give the test to only one out of every 200 people who visit your site, the odds that a competitor who is visiting your site will be selected as a test participant are extremely low. You should plan on generating about 1,000 respondents from your Web cover test over a one- or two-week period. (To determine what your Web site’s “nth” sampling should be, simply divide your total number of Web visitors over a one- or two-week period by 1,000.)

4 Screen for newsstand buyers. They’re the only ones who matter. When site users receive their survey invitation, they should be asked if they are subscribers, newsstand buyers, or just visitors to the site. To preserve the random element, all who are invited should be allowed to participate, but only results from those who indicate that they are newsstand buyers should actually be used. Magazines with relatively low circulations may find it tougher to attract enough newsstand-buyer participants, and may therefore find it more practical to ask if the person is a newsstand buyer either of their own titles or any titles within their competitive sets.

5 Keep the test simple. Your readers will have a tough time selecting among three, four or five covers if they’re all on the screen at once. Display only two covers at a time. If you’re testing three covers, show three pairs of covers, two at a time: “A” versus “B”, “B” versus “C”, and “C” versus “A”.

Ask only one question: If you saw both of these covers on the newsstand, which one would you be most likely to buy? “That’s the only question that really counts,” stresses Billick.

6 Rotate the covers shown to reduce bias. Every other respondent should see the covers in reverse order (“B” versus “A” instead of “A” versus “B”), to reduce any position bias produced by a cover being displayed on either the right or left side of the screen. The order of the cover pairs presented should also rotate. For example, one person first sees “A” versus “B”, while the next person first sees “B” versus “C”. “Once you’ve set up the initial programming rotations on your site, plugging in the images for future tests is easy,” Billick notes.

7 Test one variable at a time. Because cover lines are usually the most important determinant in a newsstand buying decision, magazines typically test cover lines first, keeping the cover images consistent and varying the cover lines. (There are exceptions, including magazines that rely heavily on celebrity cover images to attract attention.)

“Once your Internet-versus-newsstand tests have proved that there is indeed a correlation between the two, you can proceed to run other tests with greater confidence,” notes Billick. For example, you may want to test versions with four versus eight cover lines, different cover images, face shots versus waist-up shots, or different background colors.

8 Don’t ask for information you can’t use. While you might find it interesting to break out readers’ choices of one cover over another by age or income, such information is rarely actionable. If you can’t resist the urge to ask these types of questions, at least ask them last, so that they don’t interfere with the real mission of the cover test.

9 Do not ask for personal identification information. While it’s extremely tempting to ask participants for names and street and email addresses so that they can be re-contacted for future cover tests, this practice poses two dangers.

“First, since few readers will supply this information, scientific, newsstand-predictive sampling for later surveys may be undermined,” warns Billick. “Second, when people realize that you know who they are, they become more inclined to impress you with their response or to second-guess what the ‘right’ answer is.

10 Double-check the accuracy of your Web programming. “You’d be surprised at how many Web site questions which should add to 100 percent instead add to 71 percent or 210 percent,” Billick points out. “It’s also pretty easy to get the ID’s for the rotating covers mixed up.”

A last point: If a reader doesn’t answer for the full set of cover choices, his or her responses should not be included in tabulations.

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